The avatar looks a lot like Fabian Rücker. Brown hair, square glasses, three-day beard. The Rücker avatar makes the same movements as the real Rücker: he points his fingers at the screen, nods, tilts his head. However, unlike the real 30-year-old, the avatar has no legs. The Metaverse is not very good on its legs yet, Rücker explains. The sensors on the data goggles that he is currently wearing in real life can register everything and translate it into digital data except his legs. They’re just too far down for the sensors to see.
If you want to talk to Rücker, you can do so not only face-to-face, by phone or with the usual video call providers Zoom or Teams, but also in the Metaverse, to be precise: in Horizon Workrooms, the online software tool for virtual meeting rooms from Facebook, which is now officially called Meta. “If everyone had glasses on, it really feels like you’re in the same room,” says Rücker. It’s much better than the usual dimly lit video calls where you keep interrupting each other or being strangely silent. If it were up to Rücker, conferences would always be held in the Metaverse. Then the future of work would lie in the 3D internet.
That’s what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg dreams of. Probably the world’s biggest fan of the Metaverse has now renamed his entire group to Meta. Next Tuesday he invites the world to the big Meta Connect conference, where he wants to explain why the Metaverse is more than a bubble about to burst. If Zuckerberg is to be believed, the Metaverse is the next big thing, an evolution of the Internet that will revolutionize the way we all live and work. It should be a kind of three-dimensional internet that integrates with the real world. Each user then marches through the metaverse with special glasses on their nose and represented by an avatar and operates the websites, which are then no longer boring sites, but their own interconnected worlds, through voice commands or by waving their hands .
It still doesn’t work or only partially works. And many of the attempts to present the Metaverse as a big deal are usually met with malice, due to the general lack of legibility and because the avatars and virtual worlds look more like mediocre comics. But the consulting firm McKinsey sees a potential of up to $5 trillion in “value creation” in the metaverse by 2030. Many companies have already invested, not just Facebook and other technology and video game companies, but also Nike, Walmart, the dating app Tinder, the German eyewear chain Mr. Spex, where you can try on glasses virtually, or Ikea, where you can already provide your own rooms with virtual Billy shelves. And so there are job opportunities.
Vacancies not only for employees of large companies, but also for brand and communication consultants, for programmers, designers and other freelancers such as Rücker. He’s not one to stir up the Metaverse itself, not just because of the leg stuff or because a lot of people get seasick wearing data goggles like that and feel like their brains are on a rollercoaster. “We are still at the beginning of development,” says Rücker. “But in my opinion, it’s an absolute future technology. If you deal with it early, you’ll find a green pasture that you can shape.” This is true even if part of the Metaverse turns out to be hype. After all, there must be people who explain everything that doesn’t work.
More than a quarter of self-employed people expect new job prospects in the Metaverse
Nearly 50 percent of all self-employed people from the tech industry in Germany, Austria and Switzerland want to continue studying for the future of Metaverse, according to a survey by Freelancermap, a platform for the placement of freelancers. More than a quarter expect new job prospects in the Metaverse. “At the moment, the term metaverse still seems very abstract, it is mainly used for marketing,” says Freelancermap boss Thomas Maas. “But big companies have already spent so many billions that there is no turning back.” However, the company Freelancermap is not yet investing in the metaverse, for example in virtual 3D rooms for job interviews, it is still too early for that and the niche is too small. “But now is a good time for freelancers to position themselves as first movers.” Maas says it remains to be seen which specific jobs will emerge from the first hardware and software developer jobs, for example in IT security. “If you know the way before the corporations know the way themselves, they have to spend a lot of money on freelance fees, all the more because of the shortage of skilled workers.”
Rücker is someone who values companies. The 30-year-old is a geek who specializes in “Virtual Reality” (VR) and “Augmented Reality” (AR). When the first data glasses came on the market, he immediately bought one and formed groups on the internet with like-minded people who experimented with VR and AR. Since 2016 he has been researching and doing his PhD on this topic at the “Fraunhofer Institute for Graphic Data Processing”. Last year, he became self-employed as a Metaverse consultant. Since then, he has been showing industrial customers, for example, how the planning of installations can be improved if they can be viewed before the installations even exist using augmented or virtual reality. Or he gives employee workshops in companies that are starting to deal with the subject, but have not yet built up much of their own expertise. “There are still huge technical challenges that we don’t even have a solution for,” he says. “But as time goes on, this technique will become more commonplace and the term metaverse will seem less lame to us.”
The Germans are more reserved than the Americans, says Rücker
Rücker likes the role of technical interpreter and future consultant, the ‘pioneer work’, he says. And now most people in business have at least heard of the term metaverse. “In Germany we are very conservative,” says Rücker. “Of course there are some technology enthusiasts, but most of them are very skeptical.” In the US, the Oculus Quest data glasses were one of the most popular Christmas gifts last year. It is true that the glasses are more on the wish list of video game fans than those who see business opportunities in them. But the more people have one, the more normal it would be to use it at work as well. “In Germany, everything is adjusted much more slowly,” says Rücker. One of the first objections he almost always hears at workshops: no one wants to spend that much time in the Metaverse with its cartoonish avatars. Rücker always objects: many people watch a two-dimensional screen twelve hours a day, although theoretically nobody wants to. It would be better to integrate virtual elements into reality.
Still, he notices that a lot has happened in the past year and that curiosity is growing, especially since German business leaders have also noticed how optimistic Mark Zuckerberg is – after all, he has often had a good nose for major internet developments. “Many don’t want to lose touch,” Rücker noted. That creates freelance jobs. “Larger companies are easier to get a foot in the door than small ones because they have bigger budgets to try out innovations.” To book a freelancer like him you just have to overcome a relatively low threshold. He has been fully booked for months and on the social network LinkedIn he regularly receives questions from companies that want to hire him.
By the way, if you want to talk to Rücker, you don’t have to meet him in a boring virtual conference room. You can also play mini golf with him in a virtual reality. The data glasses make it look like you actually have a golf club in your hand. “It feels very real,” says Rücker. “And it’s such a cliché that the main shops on the golf course are closed.”